for this game

Huge fourth quarter lifts Cowboys past sloppy Panthers

Oct 30, 2006 - 4:45 AM CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Keyshawn Johnson said earlier this week that "the circus was coming to town." But in the end, his Carolina Panthers were the ones who looked like clowns.

Behind a productive first NFL start by Tony Romo and a franchise-record 25 points in the fourth quarter, the Dallas Cowboys rallied for an important 35-14 victory over the sloppy Panthers.

Dallas (4-3) entered with a quarterback controversy, two losses in its last three games and a surprising seven-game losing streak on Sunday night.

The Cowboys appeared headed for further disaster following a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter, but things turned around for "America's Team" in the final period, when they outscored the Panthers, 25-0, and outgained them, 137-9.

"We hadn't been having a lot of fun around here," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "But they're having fun right now."

Panthers coach John Fox understandably had a different view on the outcome.

"This was probably as poor of a performance in the fourth quarter that I've been associated with," Fox said. "I apologize to all of the people who paid for tickets to be at the game, in particular the fourth quarter. We dropped balls. We fumbled balls. We didn't tackle. It's probably as poor of 15 minutes as I've ever seen."

Mike Vanderjagt began the late comeback with a 24-yard field goal to pull Dallas within 14-13 with 9:52 remaining. On the ensuing kickoff, Brad Hoover fielded a bouncer and was stripped along the right sideline, giving the ball back to the opportunistic Cowboys.

One play later, Julius Jones darted up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown. Romo found Terrell Owens for the two-point conversion to make it 21-14.

On Carolina's next possesion, Jake Delhomme was intercepted by safety Roy Williams and Marion Barber scored on a three-yard TD run five plays later. He added a tough 14-yard touchdown run with 1:37 left to cap the scoring.

Making his first start in place of an ineffective Drew Bledsoe, Romo completed 24-of-36 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He looked comfortable in the pocket, made smart decisions and even ran for 18 yards, including a couple of scrambles that kept drives alive.

"With Tony playing the way he did tonight, it was a great win for us," Owens said. "He played very well."

Meanwhile, the Panthers (4-4) will head into their bye week on a two-game skid. They had won four straight games prior to their slide, but mistakes and inconsistency continue to haunt Fox's team, which was predicted by many to go to the Super Bowl this season.

"When you talk about what we've been able to accomplish thus far, that just wasn't the football team that won those four games in a row," Johnson said. "It is a long way of being out of this thing, but the door is slowly closing and eventually, if we don't get our act together, it will close all the way on us."

Delhomme was just 17-of-31 for 149 yards. He threw an interception and committed a fumble - both in the fourth quarter - but certainly wasn't aided by shaky pass protection and five dropped passes.

"We had some chances," Delhomme said. "We might have had a drop or two here, but those are my guys. They've bailed me out more times than not. I'll still keep on going back to them."

DeShaun Foster had a one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Steve Smith scored on a 24-yard reverse later in the period for the Panthers. Smith had six catches for 55 yards, but Johnson - a former Cowboy - was limited to one catch for 19 yards and had a pivotal drop on a possible touchdown in the third quarter.

"It's frustrating," Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers said. "Right now, we're taking ourselves back. Tonight was embarrassing. That's all I can say about it. It's unacceptable."

Owens led the Cowboys with nine grabs for 107 yards and tight end Jason Witten added six catches for 80 yards, including a three-yard TD in the second quarter.

Jones carried 24 times for 92 yards and a touchdown and Barber contributed nine rushes for 49 yards and a pair of scores for Dallas, which visits Washington next week in the second leg of a three-game road trip.

Romo completed his first two passes before getting sacked on a 3rd-and-10 to kill the Cowboys' first drive. On the next possession, he hooked up with Owens for a 25-yard gain to the Panthers 32. But after a pair of incomplete passes, Dallas had to settle for a 48-yard field goal attempt by Vanderjagt that rang off the right upright to keep the game scoreless.

Carolina promptly countered with a six-play, 62-yard drive that Foster capped with just his second touchdown of the season.

On the ensuing possession, Romo was intercepted by Chris Gamble when the third-year cornerback stepped in front of a pass to Owens and bobbled several times before barely getting his feet in as he was pushed out of bounds.

The Panthers cashed in one play later as Smith took a reverse around left end and sprinted into the end zone untouched for a 14-0 advantage.

"We got behind early," Romo said. "I threw one interception there in the beginning of the game that hurt us a little bit. But we came back as a team, fought hard, and ended up getting a win."

The Cowboys initially got back in it by scoring on their next two possessions, closing to within 14-10 on a the TD pass from Romo to Witten and a 38-yard field goal by Vanderjagt.

"You never want to get in that situation (a 14-0 deficit), especially in your first start," Romo said. "But it felt good to come back from that. We showed a lot of heart tonight."

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